Your immune system is one of those things you probably never think about until it decides to take a vacation. Or if you do, you might think of adding some vitamin C, zinc, or probiotics and think you’ve done 95% of what you need to do.
Those are good ideas, sure. But there are better ways to help support your immune system. The key to finding those better ways is to understand your immune system.
What is the immune system?
Your immune system is a combination of organs, cells, and a key fluid (lymph) that helps you stay healthy.
In simpler terms, your immune system is your body’s miniature army. Your army does its best to keep you healthy every day.
Your immune system can be divided into two different categories: innate and adaptive. Or, if you prefer, your automated defense system and infantry.
Innate immune system: Tissues like your skin as well as your mucus membranes. They do their job without even thinking about it and don’t adapt to changes.
Adaptive immune system: Reviews past results, successes and failures, and uses this information so it can be prepared for what comes next.
These parts of your immune system work together to help keep you healthy.
How your immune system works
Some immune systems work differently than others. After all, every body is different, so everybody’s immune system is. Remember this because it’s important to recognize that your friend might do really well on 6 hours of sleep and you might need more.
Let’s go back to our army, specifically the infantry (adaptive) portion of it.
Your army is on alert all the time. Your body’s natural defense system is quietly tucked away in bunkers waiting for the signal to move out.
But your immune system keeps your body healthy in other ways too. After you exercise and need to build muscle, your infantry medics are deployed to help heal the damaged tissue.
Regardless of the situation, your immune system has various parts of your mini militia positioned throughout your entire body in order to keep you healthy. These immune cells and organs are highly specialized so they can do their best to support your health.
Your defense system
These special ops form the primary cells of your immune system—white blood cells. They can be broken down into 3 primary types.
- Neutrophils account for approximately 70-90% of your white blood cells.
- Lymphocytes include B cells and T cells. These are your specialized task force members.
- Phagocytes can be free-roaming, neutrophils or monocytes (other types of immune cells). They are the clean-up crew.
Though these form the heart of your immune system, there are quite a few agents that work on a macro level.
Organs play an important role in your immune system
You have immune system stations throughout your body to help you stay healthy.
Skin – The largest organ of your body provides a physical barrier.
Mucus membranes exist in your nose and throat. Mucus physically traps debris, which you then expel.
Tonsils – There is a use for them! (Sorry for those of you that don’t have them anymore.) Situated at the entrance to your throat, they’re akin to gatekeepers.
Lymph nodes – are a housing area for white blood cells. They also act as filters and then return clean lymph (a colorless liquid that carries white blood cells) to the body.
Thymus – It’s a lymphoid organ that also houses white blood cells, so it is similar to your lymph nodes. It grows until you hit puberty, then slowly decreases in size.
Spleen – The spleen is another lymphoid tissue, but it filters blood instead of lymph. It stores white blood cells and helps recycle red blood cells.
Bowel (Gut) – Your intestinal bacteria (“good” and “bad”) are housed here. It was once thought the bacteria in the gut only assisted with digestion. Now it’s well-known they are a main component of the immune system.
Bone marrow – produces white blood cells which then travel to lymph nodes.
Your immune system is a rather intricate system, but supporting it isn’t as difficult as it might seem—especially because much of it relies on your lymph nodes.
Putting it all together to help support your immune system
Your immune system is a complex combination of cells, organs, and tissues. But as complicated as it is, there are a few simple things you can do so your immune system can help you stay healthy.
- Drink plenty of water (about a half ounce per pound of bodyweight each day) to help keep your lymph fluid moving
- Sweat every day—Whether you to go a sauna or exercise, sweating helps remove toxins and supports healthy circulation
- Biohack your immune system.
- Eat these 5 immune-boosting foods
Lastly, just remember your immune system exists—even in the summer. Just like your air conditioning and heating, proper maintenance throughout the entire year can help keep you comfortable during even the most difficult months.